I have been mentored by a successful SaaS business owner. Here is where I went wrong and my lessons to keep in mind before taking up someone else's time.
Get a mentor. It's like a fu***** cheatcode. If you are in an industry where you can get one, GET ONE!
- Mr. Beast
First off... if you are reading this (you know who you are)... I'm eternally grateful for what you have done for me. I know your time is extremely valuable and I appreciate every second you have spent talking to me to pass on your knowledge.
What this article is:
- The story of how I got a business mentor
- How it went
- A reflection of things I should have considered before engaging a mentor
What this article is not:
- A list of specific things and tips my mentor and I talked about in our sessions
NOTE: I use gender-neutral pronouns to keep them anonymous.
In 2021 I uprooted my life in Germany and migrated to New Zealand. This was at the height of Covid-19. Yay. New Zealand had closed their borders to anybody without family ties to the country... lucky for me, my partner is a New Zealand citizen. We met in a tiny town on the NZ South Island in 2011 while I was backpacking after finishing military service and highschool. After traveling NZ, Australia, Thailand and Bali over a couple of years we ended up studying and subsequently working in Germany.
The initial plan was: Finish our degrees -> then work and go on trips in Europe. Thanks to Covid, travel was pretty much dead or super restricted. So we ended up mostly working from our apartment. This is where I slowly but surely was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. I have always been interested in personal development. Naturally, entrepreneurship wasn't far off. I started getting more and more interested, reading books about biz dev and followed successful Indie Hackers, YouTubers and Twitter personalities in the space.
At the time NZ was pretty much Covid free, and because travel was what we wanted to do, my partner and I decided it was time to move to her home country. Two birds with one stone. She would be able to reconnect with her family + we could travel the beautiful country that NZ is. Boy, was I wrong - but that's a different story. We applied for managed quarantine - 2 weeks in a police guarded, locked off hotel, with regular health checks - booked our flights and quit our jobs in Germany shortly after.
Fast-forward to the end of July 2021 when we are sitting in the quarantine hotel. 2 weeks in a 20 sqm (215 sqft) room. Yay! After a few days of jet-lag, I decide to hit up one of the Indie Hacker entrepreneurs I look up to asking for a mentorship. I mean... what do I have to lose, right?! Worst case scenario, they don't answer/decline my request, and I work it out on my own.
My pitch for the mentor to be was: I get mentored and in return offer my software development skills for their business for free. To my surprise they answered and actually accepted. Success! We set up the first of many bi-weekly meetings around the middle of August 2021. All of which are remote with a very significant (10h - 12h) time difference. Yes. New Zealand is at the end of the world...
Our agreement was for me to select topics prior to our meetings to pick their brain. In return, I would develop arbitrary software for them. It was important to me to ask things I couldn't google. This translated to questions regarding their experience with different processes and tools, way of living, that sort of stuff. In my opinion this went quite well and yielded fairly productive meetings for the 3 months we were in contact.
We covered several meta topics, but also specific things regarding what I was building. Here is a small subset of what we talked about:
- How they started projects
- Ideation & idea validation
- Time management and priorities
- Time investment (full-time job + side projects)
So far so good.
Now imagine this: You quit your job and commit to building a business. No income of course. This alone is a scary thing and puts many people off. Add moving to the other side of the world from a country with fairly cheap living costs (in western standards) to a country with absolutely insane living costs. Roughly double for housing and food in my case.
In the first few months after quarantine, my partner and I were lucky enough to be able to temporarily stay for little money with an elderly couple closely related to her - yep... Being someone who lived independently for 12 years, this was not an easy thing to do. Moving after a few months within NZ brought an extraordinary steep increase in running expenses plus initial setup cost with it (bed, table, chairs, crockery, cutlery, pans, pots - we kept it extremely minimal and most of it was second hand).
At this point I have spent a very decent amount of time every week developing things for my mentor, upholding my end of the bargain. Launching the first business idea was in the works simultaneously. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that one income stream wasn't enough to sustain me and my partner for long. I needed to get a job. To add fuel to the flames, one of my close family members in Germany had a severe medical incident.
With the anticipation of working a full time job and the overall situation, I was concerned of not being able to deliver enough value regarding the development work for my mentor. So, I heavy‑heartedly decided to step away from our agreement. In my mind, it wouldn't have been fair towards the person who gave up valuable time in their day for me. All the while receiving a potentially low spec version of my work, since I wouldn't be able to work the same amount of hours I have been.
Building a business is hard. Artificially shortening the runway, putting yourself in an unfavourable living situation makes it exponentially harder.
I truly believe in providing value and not just asking for things without offering something in return. However, if I was to do mentorship again, I would either try to work out the "payment" to be something beneficial to both of us, repay my gratitude in a different way than development work unrelated to the learning target, or take less of a quid pro quo approach all together.
That said... I don't regret engaging in this specific agreement. I'm grateful for what I have learned during the sessions and through reflecting on it. I appreciate every second I got with them. It was my choice to preemptively step back because of time constraints and things I needed to sort out.
- Don't make a thousand life-changing decisions at once.
- Sort out your circumstances/living situation before adding another person and responsibilities to the mix.
- Be mindful of the people around you and the influence they have on your life.
- Know your time constraints.
- A strictly transactional, quid pro quo mentor-mentee relationship isn't for everybody, and I personally wouldn't recommend it.
- Life sometimes likes to pile on. Can you be open about it with your mentor?
- At least consider the possibility of an unexpected incident happening to you, or people close to you. How will this affect you and your mentorship?
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